Oh, Here I Am

Where did I go? I’m not even sure! Have you seen me?

Oh, here I am, trudging out of the lake covered in weeds, mascara smeared, nipples pointing in opposite directions…and dragging my Swim Buddy behind me like the world’s saddest whoopee cushion. Did you miss me?

The last 7 months have gone by in a blur. I’ve had a lot of blogging false starts. I’ve felt like writing, and then I didn’t. I’d think about a post, and then I’d get busy, and then I’d get hangry, and we all know what happens when I get hangry.

And then a global pandemic happened (WTAF), the pools closed, and I didn’t really know what to do.

This wasn’t in the plan!

I’d been swimming in the most diligent, consistent, and committed fashion of my life. I’d been working with my Kelowna-based coach (the amazing Channel Swimmer Brent Hobbs) to improve my technique (which was apparently “of the 80’s” – go figure!) and increasing my distance weekly: 4 swims a week with one LONG ASS 10 km pool swim on the weekend. I was making regular practices with my local Masters Club, getting workouts in while traveling for work, and even competing in my second Master’s meet in Vernon, BC at the end of January. I smashed my times and really felt on the up and up and up….

My last pool swim in March at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

I was focused on swimming a ton of events leading up to the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich Swim in August. I had a yoga plan (thanks KERRY!), a strength plan (thanks ANDREA!), plenty of motivation, and even my sandwich-tossing support team figured out (HI SCARLET AND THOMAS!). But when the pools closed, I was at a loss. I figured the best thing to do would be to keep my fitness up, and having a Haus-German with whom to spend much of the lockdown ensured that I got out skiing a lot. Snow is frozen water, after all.

Then all swims were cancelled. I experienced existential grief and angst. I wasn’t easy to get along with. What a year. I was always anxious, always hangry. My gills were closing. 

This coincided with the busiest period I’ve ever had in my career.  Working in education technology means that I have morphed into a 3 inch version of myself who lives in Zoom 12 hours a day and may or may not be wearing pants at any given moment.  I can no longer see more than 2 metres ahead of me, which is ok because that’s how far apart we’re supposed to be anyway.

And then finally, it was mid-May and I decided to stop being such a big girl’s blouse and get in the fucking lake, no matter how cold. 

IT WAS COLD.

SO COLD.

(but I learned that I really, really like it!)

Brrrr

No wetsuit for me – as per Coach Brent. The sanctioned swims I’ve planned do not allow it, so I’ve relegated my sleek Orca rubber to the closet, where it sits in wait and may come in handy for fighting/committing crimes.

Early season training couldn’t come soon enough, and I headed out to Christina Lake as much as possible to test my cold boundaries and gradually increase my time in the water before meeting up with Coach Brent and Channel Swimmer Emilie Epp in Kelowna for the first LONG ASS cold water swim, where I swam for 2.5 hours in 13 degrees. It was exhilarating, even if my hands turned into lobster claws and I couldn’t get my car key in the lock. I couldn’t feel my own face, but that’s ok because we’re not supposed to touch faces anyway. 

As it’s gradually warmed, I’ve had lots of lake time at Christina, Slocan, Okanagan, and Nancy Greene. I did a short bike tour with The German, and I bought a super cool, easily transportable, foldable Oru Kayak to encourage support paddlers to join me in the beautiful BC sunshine (and thunder and lightning and rain….June was pretty wet!).

I’ve finally been able to swim with Coach Brent this week. He took me on a sunset cruise under the Kelowna Bridge (both ways), which was reminiscent of that scene inThe Perfect Storm – and I loved it. We talked about goals – I’m still planning to swim the 18.9 km length of Christina Lake – and one REALLY BIG GOAL that I am not ready to talk about yet.

So much depends on whether the pools open this fall/winter. So much depends on getting more than one hour in a lane.

So much depends on everyone wearing a fucking mask and washing their hands and not partying on houseboats and not hugging each other.

Navigating this new normal is not easy, but doing it in the water is making a lot of difference for me. Better thinking, natural exhaustion, fresh air…

I really missed this. I’m glad to be back. Let’s go for a swim.

You’re Gonna Eat Lightning

Well, let’s end this year on an unexpected note, shall we?
Last year, having really upped my game in the long distance swim department, I applied for a place in the Sri Chinmoy Lake Zurich 26 km Marathon Swim.
I didn’t get in, but was told by the organizers that swimmers are rarely chosen in their first application attempt. They encouraged me to keep applying and I put it on my list for 2019. The date came around in September, and I dutifully sent in my info with very low expectations and a tiny glimmer of hope that I might make the cut. And a tiny glimmer of terror that if I was selected, I would have to swim 26 km. In one go.
On December 15, I checked my email just as Air Canada was making love to me sideways over a barrel with a cancelled work flight and sure enough…I have a place! I read the email over a few times, laughed twice, shit my pants (figuratively) and then immediately told my VIPs, followed by Facebook and Instagram.
So what does this mean?
The swim is 26 km in Lake Zurich. That’s in Switzerland, in case you slept through geography or are American. Just kidding. I love Americans.
Here’s a little illustration of the route.
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26 km is a long way. I assume that if I’m even physically capable of such a feat, it will take me at least 10 hours. I have signed up for the wetsuit category, but I may rethink this as I connect with others who have done the event.
I’m looking for a coach to start with in January – someone who will work with me on stroke technicalities, a training plan, and some accountability. I’ve put some feelers out there and hope to meet my Mickey Goldmill in the coming weeks. I’m totally prepared to run after chickens and everyone knows that grey sweatpants and a toque are already part of my training style.
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I don’t know if I can do it.
I don’t know if I can’t.
I don’t know how much fondue I will eat at the finish line.
I don’t know if I should plan a little bike trip before or after.
I don’t know much, but:
  • I know I love swimming, especially in lakes.
  • I love a challenge. Especially a big one.
  • I love Switzerland. I had a taste this past summer, and I’m excited to go back.
  • I need a big goal to focus on in 2020.
  • I will have a boat, but I do need a support person in it to throw me snacks and water and tell me to not die or cry. This person may have to either wear a diaper or control their bodily functions for up to 12 hours. I’ll be taking applications soon. Not everyone at once!

I’m going to eat lightning and I’m going to crap thunder. Knowing this makes a hard year a bit better.

Less Now

I’m going to be honest. I’m swimming less. Writing less, if at all. Feeling less. Connecting less.

Less of everything, except work (nobody I know can afford to do less of that), because I have struggled to focus since my Dad, Kelly Bowers, passed away suddenly in September.

This ability to only do less has impacted my training, my relationships, and certainly my health.

A whoosh of energy left me about 2 weeks after it happened. I caught a virus, probably from hugging and shaking hands with a thousand people. The virus settled deep in my chest and my ears, where long days of coughing sap my energy, I can’t hear very well, and I often feel dizzy. I feel fragile and sore. My rotator cuff is not healing.

I know that I need to exercise every single day – as a mood-regulator but also to store up energy for what is quite a demanding schedule. But sometimes all I can manage is a dog walk or a half-hearted hotel gym workout.

Swimming is tough right now because there’s no getting away from the mental gymnastics that happen when you’re churning lengths, and no distractions from the inner flicker of memories and replay. I have used this to my advantage previously when going through other major life challenges, but those challenges sought solutions and clarity that seemed to require focused breathing and really thinking scenarios through.

Dealing with death is very different.

I am consistently sad. I’m super cautious about feeling anything extreme, like excitement or anger. I’m protective and sometimes self-destructive. I’m hesitant to plan – which, as a natural planner – feels weird and unnatural. There are motions to go through and days to get through.

I’ve let some goals exist in a blurry bucket which is where they have to be right now. I’ll find out in a few weeks if I’ve been accepted for the 26 km Lake Zurich swim next August. I have another Master’s meet in January. (More on October’s event soon.) I have a slew of other 2020 events in Europe and Oregon and B.C. to register for. But all of this is taking a backseat to getting back to a place of motivation, dedication, and focus. Getting back to being tough, and finding the fun and challenge in this grand open water swimming experiment that has given me so much.

I’m grateful for the patience of my people, and I’m impatient for wanting more.

But right now it’s less. Bear with me.

Mission Accomplished!

What a year!

What started as what can only be called an annus horribilis (accent on annus) ended brilliantly as a number of things in my life started to reset and align. I feel like I have a new brain and a new body. All I need now is a new training playlist for the hours I’ll log in the pool over the next few months.

Let’s get this out of the way before moving on to the good shit: I wasn’t successful in my application for the Lake Zurich Swim. This was expected, but I was still a little disappointed. I only allowed one single tear to roll down the right side of my face. I will apply again for 2020 and my application will stand a much greater chance. All the fondue will be mine. ALL THE FONDUE!

OK – the good shit:

I hit my training goal of 200,000 metres this morning!

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My favourite screen capture of 2018. 

With just 1900 m to go, I hauled my  sleepy ass down to the Trail Aquatic Centre and knocked out an easy workout that culminated in a deep dive down to the bottom of the pool to rescue some kid’s sunken goggles, and then a delicious soak in the hot tub.

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My home away from home: The Trail Aquatic Centre

I followed that up with a slack-country ski date with a good pal and a restorative nap during which I did indeed dream of sugar plums. It felt great to hit the milestone and even better to think that next year I might double it.

My training did slow down with the busy-ness of December, and the pleasant distraction of skiing taking priority.  While swimming is my brain and body, skiing is truly my heart. I spent a few romantic (squeee) days at the International Hostel in Lake Louise exploring the myriad of cross-country trails and a bluebird day of downhill with the cute German boyfriend, who insisted on carrying my skis. This has never happened before and I am still crowing on about it. He carried my skis!

I had a house full of my beloved family visiting for Christmas and one much needed rest day with Netflix, pillows, and cookie snarfing. And maybe some leftover Bailey’s.

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Christmas skiing fam jam

Next up is New Year’s Eve and then I will start to work on creating my swimming plans and resolutions for 2019.

I love New Year’s Resolutions. Partly because I love to break them and make them all over again, but also because I’m someone who loves lists and lists of goals and plans and frameworks and systems. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the year that was and to set some goals for the year ahead before everything gets busy and crazy.

2018 was my most challenging year in many ways…but somehow it magically turned into one of my best years with a whole open sky of clear sailing (and swimming!) for 2019.

Some preliminary highlights of 2018 include:

  • Starting this blog. I really love writing, so it’s been healthy and motivating to document my progress, warts, deadbeats and all.
  • Kicking off my distance training with a solid plan from the Prairie Girls Swim Squad that I actually followed. Can we have another one for 2019, please?
  • epic 3 day Kootenay Lake swim with the awesome Steven family
  • completing my first Lake Skaha Ultra Swim
  • my destination swim trip to London to experience the lidos and the Serpentine Swim
  • achieving my 200,000 metre training goal
  • HE CARRIED MY SKIS!

I’ll have more to say about 2018 in the upcoming days as I formulate a few swimming “Best of ” lists.

Thank you for all of your encouragement (not you, Glen) and comments this year – and thanks for reading! May your towel be warm and dry, and your goggles unfoggy. Happy New Year!

Give It 6 Months

I visited Edmonton for work this week, and stayed downtown at the Westin. No big deal – I’m frequently in and out of Edmonton and although usually I stay at the Delta South, it was more convenient to be downtown for my appointments.

I have avoided that particular Westin like the plague, since it was the site of my “restructuring” from my former job at the end of March this year. I knew full well that the axe was about to fall on my neck. The signs were all there, and my former boss wasn’t so stealthy in concealing her plans. Sloppy and cruel even. On the day before my beheading, she even sent a meeting request for the wrong time, so that I ended up waiting outside the chambre de guillotine for an hour. She texted and told me to go and “have a nice breakfast”, but I didn’t and hid behind a pillar and watched the executioners enter the room.

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Once my head was removed, I spoke with my lawyer, chatted with colleagues, took a nap, ordered room service, and then went for a swim. Or at least I think that was the order of events. I definitely remember the swim.

Two weeks later, I started in my awesome new position with the world’s best company, landing in a role that aligns closely with my values and my skill set, with leadership who lead, for real.  My head slowly reattached itself to my body. I healed.

A close friend said to me “Give it 6 months. You’ll be a new person.”

In the year I’d spent in my previous role, I gave up much more than my head. A gruelling travel schedule saw me away from home nearly 80% of the time. A company culture of working until exhaustion saw me diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome – constantly swollen and stressed, with broken blood vessels in my eyes. I gained 35 pounds, even when living on Air Canada pretzels – a lot when you’re barely 5 foot 4. I didn’t even buy a ski pass last year. I did one measly, disappointing swim in the summer of 2017. I was mired in Excel spreadsheets full of numbers that meant nothing. My wetsuit hung pathetically in my closet.

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When I reflect back, the relentless travel and long hours did serve a purpose: keeping my mind away from the end of my marriage. Although when I was finally operating like a normal person again, I experienced what my therapist calls “delayed grief”, and it became one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with – but 6 months after the fact. I cannot recommend this approach to moving through traumatic life events.

When I started this swim blog, I was (head intact) searching for positive habits and an approach to recovery, rather than reinvention. I wanted to peel back the barnacles and find the person underneath. Shuck my own oyster. A changed person, indeed, but a person with undeniable basic needs:

  • swimming, or to be in or near water as much as possible
  • other consistent and regular exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends
  • good nutrition
  • sleep
  • kindness

There are a few other bullet points, but this is a family blog. Within 6 months, I had completed and exceeded my initial swim goals. I had established myself in my new, amazing role and loved starting work every single day. I had started divorce and other necessary legal proceedings. I’d started running. I’d bought new underwear. I grew my hair and fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a roadie for a rock and roll band. Just kidding. That never happened. 😉 I started working with a business coach. I signed up for the future.

This is not to hold myself up as any sort of role model. There’s plenty that happened within the last 6 months that I’m not proud of. But there’s plenty that I am proud of. And 6 months becomes 7, and then 8, and then 9, and then suddenly I’m at the Westin again with my head attached to my neck and I’m shaking it because I can hardly believe how much is possible with a little, or a lot of:

  • swimming, or being in or near water as much as possible
  • other exercise
  • time with my daughter
  • time with my friends (Wow, do you ever learn who those are, and aren’t, Glen.)
  • good nutrition (no Air Canada pretzels, thank you)
  • sleep
  • kindness

I have just over 8,000 more metres to swim to achieve my 2018 training goal, and 2 weeks to learn whether my application for the Lake Zurich swim is accepted. Within the next 6 months, more amazing things will happen, and more change, because that’s the constant and the way it should be for me.

And the next time I stay in Edmonton, it won’t be at the Westin. Not because I don’t like it (ohhh Heavenly Bed, you’re the best), but I left my old head there and I don’t really want it back.

Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows (to Zurich?)

The snow is falling outside my cozy Rossland home. Ski season is approaching, and with it comes all of the feelings of excitement and anticipation that I revel in every year.

And while I’m pumped to slay the fresh Kootenay powder very soon, I’m racking up my pool kilometres and focusing on my 200,000 metre training goal for the year. This week I swam in Castlegar while my daughter did her practicum for her Water Safety Instructor course, and in Trail at the Aquatic Centre. It was great to spend time in my local pools after a few weeks of back to back work travel. I’m swimming shorter workouts (averaging 3- 4 km each time) and concentrating on drills and form.

And as the end of a year with a lot of goals approaches, I’ve been making some big plans for next year.

The biggest is a trip to Switzerland in August to attempt the 32nd Annual Sri Chinmoy Marathon Swim across Lake Zurich. It’s a 26 km event and it would be amazing – IF I get in. That’s big IF.

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I applied for a spot in the event this week. A disclaimer on the site warns first-time swimmers that spaces are first allotted to those who have applied but not been selected from previous years. So, it’s a bit of a long shot, but I only have to wait until December 15 to see if my application is successful. Those who know me will know that while the previous sentence might claim nonchalance, there is nothing I hate more than waiting. For anything. Especially when it looks like this much fun.

And if my application is successful, then this swim would represent my most epic to date. Lake Zurich is 26 km long. The swim starts in Rapperswil and ends in Zurich. Swimmers go past several Swiss Alp towns en route to the finish, so I could easily stop for a cheese and chocolate fondue. I signed up in the no-wetsuit category, since I’ve been informed that the European lakes are recently very warm in the summer, and Lake Zurich is likely to be warmer than 22 degrees in August. Plus, can you imagine the neck chafing? No cheese is gonna help with that.

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I’m reminded of how I felt when I registered for the Skaha Ultra Swim. At 11.8 km, it was much longer than any event I’d ever attempted, and I understood clearly how necessary a focused training plan would be. For this greater challenge, the usual questions emerge:

  • Can I physically do this?
  • Why do I want to do this?
  • How will I fit in enough training with X and Y going on in my life?
  • Am I nuts?
  • Why is Glen reading my blog?
  • What are the steps?

The application itself is the first step. A conscious commitment to extending my distances through careful and deliberate planning and prioritizing is a close second. It’s not that I finished any of my longer distances this year with energy to spare, but rather that I feel suddenly able to tap into a newfound endurance that I never knew I had. And it isn’t just physical, although I have noticed that my fitness and  strength have markedly increased in the last few months. I even did a few handstand pushups this week. There’s nothing like being upside down to bring some fresh blood into the brain.

Which leads me to step 3 –  mindset, especially with regard to this surge of energy.  It’s also that I’m unencumbered by the former roadblocks that kept my confidence low. I’m starting to see my own life in a much more expansive sense, and I feel like the future is wide open. I’m not exactly wearing shades (prescription sunglasses are too expensive), but I’m far more curious and unafraid than I was 6 months ago when I could hardly get through a workout without literally stimming on negative thoughts. The swimming successes of the past summer also play a major role in focusing on building my potential. I had no idea that I’d be able to consistently keep up the training I needed to do. But I did, and I think it’s all down to focus and that a person like me really deeply needs goals and milestones.

A person I respect said to me recently, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” And although I’m not big on mantras (I prefer mantas), I honestly say this to myself, despite myself, several times a day. It seeps into planning my swim workouts, my nutrition, my cross-training, and all of the other things I do in this open water life and life on land. BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. Try it, you’ll like it.

If I’m not selected for the Lake Zurich Swim I will cry for a day and then work to build a back up plan. A back up plan that involves chocolate and cheese, but maybe a different destination and a different direction for my attention (and my fondue) to flow.